Chapter 6 The Growth of Asian Civilizations 500 b.c.–a.d. 550


Long before the first century ad, major civilizations flourished in both India and China. Relatively isolated and dependent on intensive agriculture, China developed a highly centralized state based on Confucianism. In contrast, India gave rise to a civilization rooted in cultural diversity and developed Hinduism, a religious and social system that was capable of adjusting to other cultures.



563 b.c.            Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) is born.

551 b.c.            Confucius is born.

c. 500 b.c.            Mahavira founds Jainism.

c. 500 b.c.            Laozi founds Daoism. 

403 b.c.            The Era of Warring States begins in China.

321 b.c.            Chandragupta Maurya founds Mauryan Empire.

232 b.c.            Mauryan Empire begins to decline.

221 b.c.            Qin dynasty unites China into an empire.

214 b.c.            Shi Huangdi builds a defensive wall that later become the Great Wall of China.

206 b.c.            The peasant general Liu Bang founds the Han dynasty.

124 b.c.            The first Chinese imperial university founded at Changan.

a.d. 220             Cao Pi overthrows the Han dynasty.

c. a.d. 550             Gupta Empire ends.


In the late a.d. 300s a Chinese monk named Fa Xian[1] traveled to India to visit the holy Buddhist shrines and to collect manuscripts. Leaving China in 399, Fa Xian traveled throughout India for 15 years. After returning to China in 414,[2]  Fa Xian wrote his memoirs, in which he observed the lives of both monks and common people:  

“The inhabitants are rich and prosperous, and vie [struggle] with one another in the practice of benevolence [good will] and righteousness. Every year on the eighth day of the second month they celebrate a procession of images. They make a four-wheeled car, and on it erect a structure of five stories by means of bamboos tied together. . . . White and silk-like cloth of hair is wrapped all round it, which is then painted in various colors. They make figures of devas [gods and goddesses]. . .  .  On the four sides are niches, with a Buddha seated in each. . . . The monks and laity within the borders all come together; they have singers and skillful musicians; they pay their devotions with flowers and incense.”[3] 

Although Fa Xian's purpose in traveling to India was to record Buddhist holy books, he also provided a unique outsider's view of Indian society in the a.d. 300s.